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BESPOKE: The Wilderness Nursery

Church Cowley St James’ school needed a new nursery building, and they knew they wanted something bespoke and visually striking. It had to be airy and attractive, and it had to fit with the forest school ethos that the nursery was pursuing. It also had to be built quickly. The result is Vertis’ most challenging building to date, a distinctive contemporary pre-school fit for the future.

Key Features

The heart of the Wilderness Nursery is a large vaulted room offering 140 square metres of teaching space. The room is divided by three prominent windows on each side: floor to ceiling windows meet skylights in the roof to give uninterrupted views of the sky and the outdoor space, and provide generous natural light.

This was a particular interest for the school leadership, who took a collaborative approach to designing the building alongside Vertis. They wanted a building where the light changed with the day and the seasons, and windows that would cast shadows across the space. This dynamic natural light, along with views of the sky and the weather, all help to blend the indoors and the outdoors and support the nursery’s forest school learning.

The choice of materials enhances this connection with the outdoors. The inside is clad with bright birch ply to the ceiling, and the outside with the local timber choice of English Sweet Chestnut. The building’s neat lines are preserved with concealed guttering, giving it an unfussy and modern look. The underfloor heating keeps the inside clear as well, and impact-resistant walls allow children to run wild in a space they can call their own.

The use of high spec glass and integrated insulation will keep the running costs of the building low, while a Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR) system ensures fresh air without heat loss.

At the end of the room is a bathroom with six toilet cubicles and handwashing facilities, with a separate disabled access toilet and a shower unit. The building also includes an office, breakout room and entrance lobby. A box window in a corner encourages children to step up and look outside. Vertis also fitted extensive access ramps, decking and railings.

The build itself had its challenges, including getting planning permission to build on an already crowded school site. The building was a tight fit and had to make the most of the space. Vertis worked with groundworks contractors, a separate flooring contractor, and the school in order to deliver the building.


  • 202 m2 total internal floor area.
  • Board-on-board Sweet Chestnut external cladding.
  • Hand-crafted birch ply panelling ceiling.
  • Impact-resistant walls formed with 100% recycled material.
  • Corner windows.
  • Standing-seam steel roof with concealed guttering.
  • Roof windows with glass-to-glass joint detail.
  • Commercial grade entrance/exit doors.
  • Concealed timber-clad back door.
  • Alarm, data and access controls.
  • Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR).
  • Plumbed multi-zone programmable underfloor heating system.
  • Accessible shower room & WC.
  • Six WC cubicles.
  • Full building regulation compliant fire-safe specification.
CCSJ 2019 01 30 at 16 42 30
CCSJ 2019 01 30 at 16 42 49
CCSJ 2019 01 30 at 16 42 48